Buzzing Cuisine

Eoin Dillon

Why we all should be eating insects

Here in the Western World there are few things more capable of making your skin crawl than the thought of a 6-or-more legged critter entering your mouth. It’s in our urban myths (the false claim that every year the average human swallows 8 spiders while asleep) and has even become a staple in shows designed to disgust us (with ‘Fear Factor’ and ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ the major culprits). And yet, when you remove the haze of cultural disgust and think about the positives of eating insects and other arthropods, you find that the pros far outweigh the cons. Here I will outline some of the benefits that come with eating insects.

Nutritional Value

In this day and age of food fads and “superfoods” I am shocked that fewer culinary hipsters have yet to latch onto the benefits of eating creepy crawlies. Although the nutritional values varies depending on which insect/ crustacean/ arachnid/ myriapod you decide to tuck in on they share one thing in common, they contain a plethora of essential nutrients. These include the 8 essential amino acids, vitamin B12, riboflavin, vitamin A and numerous minerals [1].

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The Witchetty Grub is the larval form of several Australian moths. They were traditionally eaten by the aborigines of Australia, and more recently by contestants on “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here” –Image Credit

Insects also have a high protein content per kilogram, comparable to beef or milk. For example house crickets contain around 21 grams of protein per 100 grams of crickets, whereas beef contains 26 grams of protein per 100 grams of beef.

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Fried locusts served on a bed of greens –Image Credit

Another benefit of rearing insects, is that the nutritional value changes depending on which developmental stage the insect is at. With larvae generally containing more fats, and adults containing more protein. [2]

Environmental Impact

The methods of matter assimilation into biomass and nutrient transport are much more efficient in insects than they are for vertebrates (which include all our favourite meats; cow, pig, chicken, duck, lamb etc.), essentially what this means is that insects can much more efficiently convert the plant energy they eat into their own matter. For example ten times more plant nutrients are needed to produce 1 kilogram of beef compared with 1 kilogram of edible insects [3]. As a general breakdown this would mean with the limited amount of resources available to rear animals for meat, we could get 10 times more food from insects. When one considers that 13% of the world’s population is undernourished, I find it mad that we stick our noses up at such a viable food source. Another environmental aspect of eating insects is that it would reduce the need for pesticides. In some parts of Mexico the grasshopper Sphenarium purpurascens, which is a crop pest, is collected from the fields and used as food. This has reduced the need for pesticides and also generate an additional source of income for the farmers averaging around $3,000 a year [3].

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Sphenarium purpurascens, a grasshopper crop pest which is collected and eaten by farmers in Mexico –Image Credit

In fact, the benefits of eating insects are such that the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has organised workshops in the past to try to raise awareness on insects as a viable food source [4] and the European Commision has invested more than €3 million into developing insects as a popular food choice [5].

Unfortunately, no matter the benefits or how silly their disgust is I feel a lot of people will remain quite reluctant to eat insects for some time. Yet many of the same people will happily eat molluscs (calamari, mussels, oysters) and even other arthropods (crustaceans are basically just the insects of the sea, so think of that next time you have lobster, shrimp, prawns or crab claws), but there remains hope. Products containing insects have become somewhat more popular in recent years and consumables such as high-protein cricket flour to bake with and chocolate covered ants are growing in popularity. Only time will tell if entomophagy catches on, but I for one will be first in line at the grand opening of K.F.Cicada.

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Some high protein confectionery –Image Credit

References

  1. http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/34172/title/Why-Insects-Should-Be-in-Your-Diet/
  2. http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e06.pdf
  3. Premalatha, M., Abbasi, T., Abbasi, T. and Abbasi, S. (2011). Energy-efficient food production to reduce global warming and ecodegradation: The use of edible insects. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 15(9), pp.4357-4360.
  4. http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2008/1000791/index.html
  5. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/06/insect-eating_n_950827.html

 

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